Focus Area 1: The Field of Youth Work

How will learning about The Field of Youth Work help me?

The Art & Science of Youth Work Certificate course begins with a broad, historical overview to help you appreciate how the field of youth work developed more than 100 years ago and continues to evolve today.

While many countries around the world have been on a similar trajectory based on evolving theories of childhood and adolescence, for this training our focus is specifically on the United States.

What’s important is that you know you’re actually part of a global network of people who dedicate themselves to helping young people thrive.

This will help you appreciate how you fit into the bigger picture and how your work truly does make an impact beyond just the local program you serve. It can be easy to lose sight of that bigger impact when you’ve got your head down, dealing with the day to day work.

The work you do helps the young people you serve as much as it helps our communities and our society as a whole. Think about it – in all kinds of schools where youth workers serve, in all the different churches and places of worship, in all the mentoring programs, in all kinds of clubs, in all sorts of summer camps, in so many different kinds of afterschool and out-of-school- time programs, in teen centers in large and small cities all across the country – there is hardly a place where young people are that you won’t find some sort of youth worker there to build a caring relationship. The impact of your work is virtually unlimited.

In your role as a youth worker, you’re called on to wear many different hats. These different roles will require you to develop your ability to adapt and respond in the moment. Many of the core competencies you’ll need, such as communications, intercultural engagement, behavioral interventions, ethics, mental health basics, will be addressed throughout this course.

You can see that the field of youth work is very diverse and there is often no general agreement about what it does and how it works. As youth work continues to evolve, there continues to be ongoing debate about terms and definitions used so it’s important that we address a common misperception about a term in general use still today: ‘intervention.’

Intervention is sometimes misunderstood as having a negative connotation, as if only ‘bad kids’ or ‘troubled youth’ would need intervention services. We see intervention as a neutral term and will refer to it in that context in this course.

By definition, intervention simply means:

‘becoming involved in something in order to have an influence on what happens’

Youth workers become involved in the lives of young people in order to have an influence on how those young people can best develop their own unique skills and talents to grow into successful adults.

Seen through this lens, ALL youth work is an intervention of some sort.

Youth work has a long history and tradition of change, growth, and evolution – the field itself as well as the individuals who do the work. Professional development plays a critical role in the ongoing evolution and growth of the field. Your commitment to earning the Certificate in The Art & Science of Youth Work demonstrates your willingness to play a more meaningful part in advancing the field. Way to go – you’re benefitting young people everywhere!

Learning Tip


As you go through this focus area module, keep these specific learning objectives in mind. It will help you hone in on the biggest concepts to advance your learning.

The quiz at the end of the module is based on these objectives. So, you can be well-prepared for the quiz by making sure you are taking in the key lessons outlined in these learning objectives.

Learning Objectives Preview

  • Gain a broader perspective about the field of youth work and the value of a caring adult in the life of a young person

  • Explore the broader context of your role as a youth worker

  • Create a personalized self-care plan

  • Learn the importance of continuing your professional development
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